Access to mental health care should be an equal right for all Americans, but many barriers still exist to receiving treatment — especially for Black, Indigenous, and people of color.
About 1 in every 6 Americans will suffer from a mental health condition in their lifetime, but minority groups are more likely to experience risk factors that contribute to mental illness. However, the cultural stigma of mental healthcare coupled with discrimination, lack of insurance coverage, and mistrust of treatment are established barriers for the BIPOC community to receiving mental health treatment.
It’s hard to pinpoint just what a “disparity” is. It’s easily defined as an unfair difference, but it’s not always as easy to identify or prove a disparity in real life.
The Institute of Medicine defines disparities in health care as a difference in quality not due to differences in health care needs or preferences of the patient. In mental health care, disparities can be rooted in unequal access to good providers, differences in insurance coverage, as well as microaggressions and discrimination from clinic professionals in the field.
How Can Racial Disparities Be Reduced in Mental Health Care?
One key factor to racial disparities starts with the therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists themselves. With about 86% of American therapeutic professionals identifying as white, many other races and ethnicities feel unseen — not to mention less understood — in the mental health field.
Also, while many therapists offer quality care to their patients, there are only so many of them. Studies show that there are about 30 psychologists for every 100,000 people and just 15 psychiatrists for the same data set. Those in large metropolitan areas often have a higher average of available mental health professionals, but those in rural areas can see significantly lower options, with just 9 psychologists per 100,000 residents in rural American counties.
This lack of access can make the journey to find a counselor or psychologist as difficult as the treatment itself. Stack on the inability to afford mental health services without insurance — or finding a therapist that accepts your coverage — and it’s a daunting task just to begin treatment.
The American mental health industry has gone through a number of racist practices, including formulating inaccurate diagnoses for enslaved people to prove they deserved the harsh and inhumane treatment.
Today, The BIPOC community has less access to mental health services than their white neighbors and are less likely to receive quality care. When they do, Black Americans are more likely to stop mental health services abruptly or refuse psychiatric medication — often because of the stigma around both treatment options.
Education is important for breaking any stigma around mental health care, but especially in the BIPOC communities. However, it’s a two-way street: Providers need more education about how to care for patients of color, and patients need education on the true aspects of mental illness and treatment options.
While mental health is a specialized field, screenings for anxiety and depression can also be done at a primary care physician’s office before seeking further treatment. One way to help remove the racial disparities in mental health is to offer more screenings across the healthcare system to refer those in need to the proper professionals.
Contact Us Today
The journey to quality mental health care doesn’t have to be long and tumultuous. If you’re looking for a racially diverse staff of mental health professionals, contact us today to schedule an appointment.